Derek Abrahams was born at St Neots, Huntingdonshire, was educated at Bedford School and Caius College Cambridge and completed his medical studies at St George's Hospital London. He was born into a distinguished family, which no doubt influenced his future life. It is always difficult following in distinguished footsteps. His mother was killed in an accident when he was very young and his lawyer father died at an early age. His three uncles were each well known in their fields, Sir Adolphe, the London physician and rheumatologist, Sir Solly, a chief justice in the colonial service, and Harold Abrahams, the Olympic runner and gold medalist, whose fame was rekindled by the successful film, 'Chariots of Fire'. By a strange coincidence, Derek, nephew of Harold met James, a successful practitioner and nephew of Eric Liddle at Mona Vale Hospital at the time of the release of the film in Sydney. Eric Liddell of course had been the great rival of Harold Abrahams for Olympic honours all those years before.
Derek had a slow start to his medical career. He often remarked that he regretted not having taken his early days more seriously. Life at Caius College where his uncle Harold had shone, distracted him for a time. He enjoyed the 'good life', however he put all that behind him and embarked on a career in cardiology. He became a hard working registrar in medicine and by 1948 rewards began to accumulate; he was made research scholar at the Royal College of Physicians, London. The following year he was appointed senior registrar at the National Heart Hospital London. A senior fellow cardiologist, Gaston Bauer, recalls he first met Derek during his three year term at the Heart Hospital. He was an excellent clinician and teacher but at times his immediate superior, Dr Paul Wood, could be ungracious towards him if he considered Derek to be incorrect on some point.
In 1952, Derek was awarded a Travelling Fellowship in Medicine to the USA. The following year was appointed Lecturer in Medicine at the London Hospital. Derek could at times be quite forthright in his remarks and it was said that Sir Adolphe who had also been at The London Hospital had been equally forthright, a fact that some staff members remembered. Whatever had been the reasons there seemed to be no prospects of further academic advancement in London.
In 1956 he took up the post of Senior Lecturer in Medicine at University College, Ibadan, where he was later given a personal chair in medicine. Life in Nigeria in the late fifties was interesting clinically but for a man brought up with Derek's background, day to day living was not English countryside living. In 1963 he applied for and was appointed to the post of associate professor of medicine at the newly established medical school, University of New South Wales. His knowledge and ability were quickly recognised but because of his forthright manner and his rather inflexible and uncompromising adherence to self imposed standards and principles he clashed with the Head of the Department of Medicine, Professor Ralph Blacket. He resigned from his university post in 1968. At this stage of his career he realised that his academic ambitions would not be realised so he made the sensible decision to become a good general physician with a special interest in cardiology.
He soon obtained appointments at Mona Vale Hospital, Royal North Shore Hospital and Manly Hospital. He quickly made a reputation for himself as a sound physician and consequently developed a busy practice. As a senior cardiologist he found his junior position at RNSH very frustrating, so with no prospects of advancement he resigned his appointment. He concentrated his energies on Mona Vale Hospital where his reputation as a teacher and physician were enhanced. His opinions were eagerly sought and his ward rounds were always popular with undergraduates and graduates alike. He still retained his forthright manner and self-imposed high standards and was very critical of those who failed to take a proper history or do a full physical examination. He was also critical of colleagues whose patients were taking a multitude of medications. He constantly advised junior doctors to 'stop poisoning patients', not to be a 'bed end doctor' nor a 'test doctor' and at times to 'stop all drugs' so that a proper diagnosis could be made. This approach of course was appreciated by resident doctors but displeased many general practitioners until they got to know him better. It is a sign of the times that litigation and bulk billing have altered attitudes towards being a 'test doctor'.
Derek was a determined and courageous man. Undoubtedly his family's success played a large part in his own determination to succeed but, as it happens, his eventual success was not as he had planned. His many patients benefited greatly from his change from academia to the everyday world of good 'doctoring'. He showed great self discipline when his malignant lung lesion was diagnosed and deemed inoperable; he attended radiotherapy in the mornings and continued his medical work later in the day. Derek married twice and had two children. After his death a colleague remarked, 'what a pity, Derek had mellowed so much that he had become a marvellous man for pleasant conversation and reminiscences.'
His death was a great loss to patients, friends and family alike.
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